A few weeks ago my daughter took her first steps into formal education, kindergarten. I have been a little surprised to find this has involved a transition not only for her, but for me, too. Not only does her mother and I want her dressed comfortably and ready to learn, we have to plan or pack a meal that she will eat without us watching. Thus far we have been packing dinner leftovers from the night before, thinking that food from home would be comforting in an unfamiliar setting. But amidst the chaos of sending her across town to school, already we are searching for ways to make our morning routine easier, including signing her up for the school lunch program. But the nagging question is, “What if she doesn’t like what they serve?”
On a whim, yesterday I asked my daughter, “What would you include in your perfect school lunch?” With little hesitation she answered: “A hot dog, some rice and baby carrots. Fruit gummies and cherries for dessert.” And for a drink? “Water.” Not so bad, that is with the exception of the hot dog. But to be completely fair to her, the hot dog my daughter is talking about is, according to the package, “all natural uncured all beef without nitrites, gluten, MSG, antibiotics or hormones.” I have been known to eat worse, an occasional slice of low sodium spam.
Our ultimate goal as parents is to raise children who will make good choices. That includes having a healthy relationship with food. I see the effects of unhealthy eating in my pediatric clinic in the obese children with elevated cholesterol already accelerating down the path towards diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But it is not just obesity and it is not just children. We all know friends and family members whose relationship with food is pathological: emotional eating, eating disorders, and extreme dieting. We want our children to enjoy food, to be daring about trying new foods, and to make healthy choices with the right nutritional balance. Just as important is having the self-awareness to know when they are full so they can stop eating.
Starting this fall, I am excited to share, schools will be key partners in achieving these goals. The USDA will adopt new nutrition standards for school meals as a part of the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This is the first of a three-year transition process which begins with lunch and extends to foods in vending machines to benefit the 32 million children who participate in meal programs at their schools. There will be more whole grain offerings. There will be efforts to reduce trans fats and sodium. Meals will be adjusted to contain the appropriate number of calories for the child’s age. And my daughter will be relieved to learn that fruit and vegetables, including cherries and carrots, will be available everyday. Some school districts in low income communities like Oakland have been taking school nutrition a step further . This is a win for our schools and our children.
So, now, whom do I need to talk to about including all-natural- uncured-all-beef-antibiotic-free hot dogs on the menu?
This post is part of the MomsRising "Making the School Day Healthier" Blog Carnival headlined by Top Chef Lorena Garcia."